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Canadians report greater attachment to their language than country, poll shows

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A new survey finds more Canadians report a strong attachment to their primary language than to other markers of identity, including the country they call home.

The survey, which was conducted by Leger for the Association for Canadian Studies, found 88 per cent of respondents reported a strong sense of attachment to their primary language, whereas 85 per cent reported the same for Canada.

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The greater importance of language was especially notable among francophones and Indigenous Peoples.

Reports of strong attachment to primary language exceeded all other markers of identity, including geography, ethnic group, racialized identity and religious affiliation.

Of the markers of identity considered in the survey, Canadians were the least likely to report a strong sense of attachment to a religious group.

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Association for Canadian Studies president Jack Jedwab said the survey’s findings highlight the important role language plays in people’s identities.

“I think many Canadians may be surprised by it, who may not think intuitively that language is as important as other expressions of identity that get attention,” he said.

Jedwab said people should be mindful of not downplaying the importance of language given how significant language can be to a community. He said language has a dual function of facilitating communication and being an expression of culture.

“There can be a tendency for people to diminish the importance of other languages,” he said.

“We’ve not paid historically sufficient attention to Indigenous languages, which we’re now seeing our federal government invest considerably in, trying to help sustain and revive Indigenous languages,” he added.

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The online survey was completed by 1,764 Canadians between July 8 and 10. It cannot be assigned a margin of error because online polls are not considered truly random samples.

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For Canadians whose primary language is French, 91 per cent reported a strong sense of attachment to their language, in comparison to 67 per cent who reported the same sentiment for Canada.

In Quebec, more people reported a strong sense of attachment to their primary language than to the province.

Only 37 per cent of Canadians reported a strong sense of attachment to a religious group.

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The findings come ahead of Statistics Canada’s latest census release on languages in the country, which is set to be published on Wednesday.

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Jedwab said the census release will be especially important to Quebec, where there’s a close monitoring of the state of the French language in comparison to other languages.

The Leger survey also found more than half of francophone Quebecers say they know English well enough to hold a conversation. That’s in contrast to less than one in 10 English respondents in all provinces except Quebec and New Brunswick who say they can hold a conversation in French.

According to the last census, English-French bilingualism rose from 17.5 per cent in 2011 to 17.9 per cent in 2016, reaching the highest rate of bilingualism in Canadian history. Over 60 per cent of that growth in bilingualism was attributable to Quebec.

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